The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in Singapore, announced early in March that the dependant pass (DP) eligibility to work will change with effect from 1st May 2021. The DP, which traditionally allowed trailing spouses or family members of expat employees to work in Singapore with merely a letter of consent (LOC) from the MOM, now stands to change with stricter processes. While a move such as this is clearly in keeping with the MOM’s stance on creating and maintaining more job opportunities for Singaporeans, the impact this will have on the dependants moving to the country cannot be ignored.
Come May 1, trailing dependents of foreigners employed in Singapore who at present hold a DP, will need to seek and secure a work pass in order to continue working here. Their working status in the country would therefore be subject to the same processes as the family members they moved to the country with.
Josephine Teo, Minister of Manpower, has been reassuring in her statements about the dependent’s pass changes confirming that “ [the Ministry] will provide sufficient time for existing DP holders working on an LOC, as well as their employers, to transit to this new arrangement. Most of them meet prevailing work pass criteria. Those that do not will have to cease working in Singapore.”
What would the shift be like?
In order to facilitate the transition, information regarding the qualifying salary and dependency ratio ceiling along with levies for the respective work passes shall be made available.
What may come across as an extra layer of complication for foreign nationals moving to Singapore, especially for the wives of expats taking up jobs here, is aimed at building consistency within the work ecosystem in adherence to latest manpower updates, explains the Ministry.
Whom does this affect and how?
What is interesting to note is the statistic that only about 1 per cent of DP holders work while residing in Singapore. That said, for those with a dependent status, and these are mostly women, it must be important to be able to work and feel valued at a job. It is no wonder then that this announcement has led to anxiety within the expat community. Yet again, we see structural, government policies that would affect women more personally than they would their male family members.
When the LOC of these dependant workers lapses, should their employers still wish to continue their employment, their respective companies would need to apply for a separate work pass. As the rules tighten, the minimum qualifying salary for holding an employment pass has been raised to S$4500, and to an even higher peg of S$5000 for financial services. The only exception being that DP holding entrepreneurs who create local employment (hiring at least one Singaporean who is paid above the Local Qualifying Salary of S$1400) in the running of their businesses, can still continue their operations under an LOC.
Unfortunately, for those whose employers cannot pay them enough to make the cut-off, this appears to be the end of the road in terms of employment in Singapore. Moreover, those who do not meet the minimum qualifying wage criteria would also be the ones who either work out of financial necessity or those who wish to continue their careers to feel fulfilled. This raises many questions in terms of the life that is promised to expats in Singapore.
The road ahead
With employment for their family members being subject to heavy restrictions, would foreign nationals considering a move to Singapore be deterred? How would expat families be affected financially and emotionally with this change ? Would expatriates working in Singapore consider quitting their jobs and the country altogether? What would the collective financial repercussion of such a surge be on the Singapore economy and its image as a great place to relocate to? While the policy intends to promote greater hiring of local Singaporeans, will it have unintended consequences in Singapore's pursuit to be a global talent hub? These are questions that we would possibly see answered as this story unfolds in the coming months in the year ahead.
What cannot be negated is the fact that women will be disproportionately impacted by this policy, and the idea of working in Singapore depends heavily on the brand the country has created for itself over the years as a destination of choice for mobile global talent. Most DP holders in Singapore are the wives or partners of employees who hold jobs. Losing out on their source of livelihood is more than a financial blow to their family income. It’s also a loss of freedom - a compromise on the ability to earn a living and all the psychological valence that comes with. Being financially dependant leads to stress and a much lower sense of self-worth. Having moved to a different country to support their partners, women (and all other dependants) deserve the support to follow their own career paths and grow in them as well.
The quality of expat life depends in part on how well their families can be integrated into the system and that presupposes relevant opportunities for their career to grow and flourish. There is always hope and it is still early in the execution of these new rules. Being a country that is conscious of its people and their needs, it would be interesting to see how the Ministry handles the shift holistically without alienating Singapore’s expat community or the women who would be challenged to pursue their careers and while still promoting the Singaporean brand and delivering on the promise that has inspired millions around the world who have come to work here in Singapore and call it their home.
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